Describe your latest book.
Strangers at the Feast tells the story of two families, one white and one black, connected by a crime on Thanksgiving Day. My first novel, Easter Island, was about people defining themselves by traveling to a faraway land. This novel looks instead at how people define and defend their sense of home. Each character in the book is hiding a personal misstep or sin which emerges throughout the course of the narrative — wrongdoings that, collectively, lead all the characters toward a very particular tragedy.
What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
Maybe Philip Carey from Of Human Bondage. I'm a sucker for a man with a club foot. And after the way Mildred treated him, I think he'd be quite receptive to me.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
A few years ago in a London bookstore, I bought a novella called Chess Story by a writer I'd never heard of: Stefan Zweig. (I have a rule that when I walk into a bookstore I have to leave with one book I've never heard of.) Zweig was an early 20th century Austrian writer who was apparently quite well known in Europe but never rose to prominence in the U.S., which is a great shame. Chess Story turned out to be the greatest novella I've ever read; it literally brought sweat to my brow. I then quickly tracked down one of Zweig's novels, Beware of Pity, and it ranks up there with the greatest novels of all time. No one should let their life slip by without reading these works.
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
I'm a huge fan of E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime and The March, so when I found myself with some free time after finishing this last novel, I read The Book of Daniel.
Name the best television series of all time, and explain why it's the best.
Michael Apted's Up series. This series began in 1964 and followed the lives of 14 British school children; every seven years, installments are filmed and aired to explore the effects of class and time on their lives. The series is part longitudinal study, part reality television, and I think it's the most novelistic series that has ever aired. I've yet to meet a person who watched the first installment (7 Up) and wasn't hooked.
Who's wilder on tour, rock bands or authors?
When people start throwing their underwear at writers, we'll loosen up.
If you could have been someone else, who would that be and why?
Michiko Kakutani, so I could give all my friends glowing reviews!
What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?
When I'm not reading novels, I love reading about science — everything from the latest breakthroughs in quantum physics to theories about how altruism evolved in humans.
Hyperspace by Michio Kaku
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller
On Human Nature by E. O. Wilson
The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
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Jennifer Vanderbes is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a New York Public Library Cullman Fellowship. Her debut novel, Easter Island, was translated into sixteen languages, and her essays and reviews appear in the New York Times and Washington Post. She lives in New York City. Visit her website at www.jennifervanderbes.com.
Books mentioned in this post
Jennifer Vanderbes is the author of Strangers at the Feast